NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU ½
PG-13, 93 mins.
2023, PG-13, 93 mins.
Kaitlyn Dever as Brynn / Elizabeth Kaluev as Young Brynn / Zack Duhame as Mailman / Lauren L. Murray as Brynn's Mother / Geraldine Singer as Mrs. CollinsWritten and directed by Brian Duffield
The alien invasion genre has become so saturated over the decades that it has become that much more difficult for any new filmmaker to come around and inject some much needed revitalizing freshness into it.
There have been a few recent attempts that audaciously bucked stale trends and conventions (the micro-budgeted STARFISH from A.T. White and THE VAST OF NIGHT from Andrew Peterson unequivocally proved that they can successfully exist on their own amidst a crowed genre packed filled with bloated and expensive blockbusters), and now comes writer/director Brain Duffield's NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU. The film, to be fair, has many alien invasion hallmark troupes, not to mention that it's not the first of its kind to be set in a rural setting (M. Night Shyamalan did it 21 years ago with SIGNS), but where it proudly and magnificently stands out is in its execution and twists and turns it takes. Think of it as a home invasion thriller morphed into an extraterrestrial close encounter action picture and you have NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU, but as an added and endlessly intriguing element, it's wholly carried by one actress in a nearly wordless performance. Like A QUIET PLACE before it, Duffield's sci-fi thriller envelops audiences (and genuinely terrifies them) with dread-inducing suspense, bravura sound design, and by explaining things without the actual characters explaining anything.
BOOKSMART's wonderful Kaitlyn Dever (also serving as co-executive producer) has never been better than she is here playing Brynn, an awkwardly shy and painfully introverted young woman who lives alone and in complete isolation in her country home just outside of the quaint town of Small River. She has just lost her mother and inherited the family home, where she spends a majority of her days working as a tireless dressmaker that ships out her creations to her clients. The early scenes in NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU in no way hint at the type of film to come, as we bare witness to the structured routines of this young woman. She lives a seemingly idyllic life, but the longer we spend with her the more we begin to realize that she may not entirely be mentally well. She meticulously practices dance moves without a partner as a time passing hobby and writes a letter (that she never seems to finish) about all of her daily musings to an unknown person named Maude. Perhaps more unsettling is her visiting Small River to deliver one of her packages, and she has an almost paralyzing fear of venturing outside of her car and - worse yet - seems completely incapable of interacting with people on any level. The early solitary appeal of Byrnn's life soon gives way to the realization that something is seriously wrong with this person.
Her already stressed life is shattered one fateful night by the sudden appearance of a home intruder, which she quickly deduces - based on its gigantic cranium and eyes and impossibly proportioned feet and toes - is not an ordinary burglar, but rather an alien visitor that seems hostile. The being is not only ghastly looking, but appears to have telekinetic powers and the ability to turn on and off all electrical devices with its mind alone. Fearing for her life and scared senseless, Brynn engages in a terrifying game of hide and seek with this beast from another world, but ultimately and accidentally gets up close and physical with it, which culminates with her stabbing it in the head with a broken off section of one of her model town sets. The alien crashes to the ground dead...but now what? Brynn has to deal with an alien corpse and the destruction that it has caused in her home. She decides to cover up the body and hide it, after which time she decides to venture back into town to seek out help. Unfortunately for her - and as established earlier - the townsfolk don't take too kindly to her. Even more alarming is that some of them begin to exhibit extremely odd and unexplainable behavior beyond hostility towards Brynn.
The best thing that I could possibly say about Duffield's film is that it's a decidedly ultra-slow burn affair that's not afraid to leave audiences guessing as to what's happening in this town, what the aliens' motives are, and just what on earth happened to poor Brynn to make her such a reclusive and anti-social personality. Why does a young and attractive woman in her early twenties live alone and with no ties to the outside world? Why is she afraid of the citizens of Small River? Why is she practicing dance moves when it's clear that she will most likely never have a partner? And who the hell is Maude that she keeps cryptically writing to in a letter that has been in the early draft phase for days on end? Duffield doesn't go out of his way when it comes to expositional particulars in the opening sections of the film and instead opts to firmly and immediately plant viewers right into this troubled woman's tightly sealed world that she solely resides in. This approach creates genuine interest and forward momentum in the story, and when that single alien does make its presence felt, its doubly scary because (a) it's a hideous creature from parts unknown and (b) Brynn has already been established as an easily intimidated loner with no personal ties with anyone. The creature itself is both the stuff of obligatory B-grade 1950s sci-fi with some creative augmentations. It has a face and head that's stereotypically alien, yes, but its limbs and movement are decidedly different. It's also one thing for a vulnerable young woman to fend herself off from a prowler, but it's a whole other issue when said prowler is a monster that can throw her around her home with its thoughts.
The initial standoff between Brynn and this alien is easily the film's finest and most nerve-wracking moment, which Duffield stages with maximum efficiency and exemplary usage of camera angles, spatial geography, and sustaining an endless amount of spin-tingling dread about what may or may not pop out from around any nook and cranny of the home. NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU becomes increasingly disturbing in these early stages based more on what we don't see of the alien versus what we finally do see. Having a multi-level country home adds to the undulating suspense, where things like a shrill door opening or the sound of footsteps on a creaky old floor do more to alarm poor Brynn (and viewers) than perhaps seeing the aliens full-on for the first time. It could easily be said the alien itself is more than a tad goofy looking in a retro/throwback kind of manner, but when it actually starts to move and usurp total control of the environment, it's positively frightening. This film is an exquisite example of how to use a single setting to its fullest advantage to create a sense of panic-inducing and claustrophobic unease. NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU takes sinful joy in finding increasingly novel ways of having the alien find and terrify this dismayed woman who's on the constant run. Even when Brynn fights back (and successfully so, at one point), it's far, far from over.
Again, akin to A QUIET PLACE, NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU puts rich and immersive sound design on a triumphant pedestal, which is aided by the fact that there's just one single line of dialogue (maybe two...I'll have to watch again to confirm) throughout the entire film. That's pretty staggering. At least the cast of A QUIET PLACE had each other to play off of, but Dever herself thanklessly occupies most of the key scenes here completely alone or while sharing space with CG aliens (and sometimes in wholly artificial environments). And she has to do so in what's essentially a mute performance of raw physicality. She's called upon to relay volumes about who she is and what she's feeling at any given time without uttering a word, which would prove to be a Herculean acting challenge for any performer in an alien invasion film (or any film, for that matter). Dever acclimates herself to sensational effect in her traumatizing scenes fending off the first alien, but she's even better in the quieter and more introspective moments (like a short, but emotionally hellish, scene between her and the chief of police and an unknown woman by his side) with the same headstrong commitment. NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU is a torture test film in the sense that Dever's Brynn is forced to run the gambit of one shocking ordeal after another, but it's the minimalist strokes used here (from Duffield's assured and stylish direction and Dever's tour de force acting) that really seals the deal.
Duffield is clearly working on a different
register from other dime-a-dozen alien invasion pictures, which, no doubt,
comes out of his insanely high-concept high school-themed dramedy SPONTANEOUS
(his directorial debut) about students that just start...exploding...with
no rhyme or reason. That film married body disturbance horror with
social satire and adolescent romcoms with commendable fluidity. NO
ONE WILL SAVE YOU wears its influences on its sleeve as well: It's part
SIGNS...part A QUIET PLACE...part INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS...part
haunted house thriller...and it liberally borrows formulas from those and
many other films of its ilk. But it's the unexpected detours and
creative choices here that ultimately makes the film subversive, smart and
scary. Not everything here clicks. The VFX used to showcase
the E.T. menace sometimes shows the film's budget (granted, Duffield knows
how to work around such limitations), not to mention that the final
sections of the story aren't anywhere near as enthrallingly as what built
up towards them (you're either going to simply buy into the ambiguous -
and some could aptly argue dissatisfying and confounding - climax and
resolution...or you won't). Still, NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU is a major
accomplishment for the sophomore Duffield, one that's devilishly clever,
slickly innovative, and legitimately creepy.
What a tremendous disappointment that this film is being given a no-frills release dump on streaming (Hulu in the U.S., Disney Plus in Canada) versus a full-on theatrical release. This is the kind of potentially superb shared audience viewing experience that would have benefited enormously by a cinematic screening. Imagine if the first A QUIET PLACE didn't get a theatrical release and you'll understand what I mean. NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU deserves better than its getting. And how.